Dr. Len Lichtenfeld of the American Cancer Society shares the simple things everyone can do to enjoy the warmer weather while still keeping their skin safe.
- Posted on Jun 13, 2016
More than 5.4 million people will be diagnosed with some form of non-melanoma skin cancer this year alone.
American Cancer Society’s deputy chief medical officer, Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, explains to Guideposts.org that the reason so many older adults battle skin cancer, specifically melanoma, one of the deadliest forms of the disease, is because exposure happened when they were young – think of that sunburn you got as a child after swimming at the pool all day. The cancer doesn’t show up until years later.
“That means that your risk doesn’t go up and down [with the seasons],” Dr. Lichtenfeld explains, dispelling the myth that the danger for skin cancer is only in the summer. “[Your risk for skin cancer] starts at one level and continues to rise throughout your life.”
Though some damage may already be done, Dr. Lichtenfeld says there’s still plenty people can do to take care of their skin and reduce their risk of skin cancer this summer.
First on the list: use common sense if you know you’re headed outdoors.
“It’s easy to say ‘avoid the sun,’ but much harder to do,” Dr. Lichtenfeld admits. “I think a better way of saying it is ‘don’t seek the sun.’ Being outside is certainly part of a healthy lifestyle but use some common sense. If you go outside, try to avoid direct exposure to the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the ultraviolet rays are at their strongest. Try to be in a shady environment with a tree or a sun umbrella as opposed to just lying out in the sun and baking your body.”
An good way to remember to protect your skin from the sun is with the “Slip, Slop, Slap” method.
“Slip on a shirt, preferably a long sleeve, ultraviolet protective shirt,” Dr. Litchenfield suggests. “Slap on a hat, a wide-brimmed hat. Don’t forget that the tops of your ears and the back of your neck are places that can be left exposed and are where skin cancers can occur. And slop on the sunscreen. People don’t understand sunscreen. They don’t use it properly. Read the labels, make sure you’re using a sunscreen that’s what they call broad spectrum – that’s sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Make sure that you use enough and that you reapply it according to the instructions on the label.”
Dr. Lichtenfeld also recommends that everyone, especially older adults, begin taking a Vitamin D supplement. Though you can get a healthy dose from things like milk and fish, most people think the sun is the best source, which just isn’t true.
“You can’t undo the damage,” Dr. Lichtenfeld says, “What you can do is prevent more from happening.”
He suggests checking yourself regularly and paying attention to your body – after all, you know it best. When it comes to melanoma, one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer, he recommends the ABCDE method of testing.
A – Asymmetry. If you see a lesion or mole on your body, imagine drawing a line through it. If the two halves wouldn’t match, meaning it is asymmetrical, that’s a warning sign for melanoma.
B – Borders. Are the borders of the lesion/mole uneven or jagged?
C – Colors. Having a variety of colors is another warning signal. A number of different shades of brown, tan or black could appear. A melanoma may also become red, white or blue.
D – Diameter. How large is the lesion? Benign moles usually have a smaller diameter than malignant ones. Melanomas usually are larger in diameter than a pencil eraser.
E – Evolution. Common, benign moles look the same over time. Be on the alert when a mole starts to evolve or change in any way.
“When you see something on your skin that’s changing, get it checked,” Dr. Lichtenfeld says. “Don’t hesitate. See your health professional.”
He also wants people to know that, despite what our culture and the media might tell us, getting a tan isn’t what you should be trying to achieve this summer.
“Currently, we’re seeing a higher risk for melanoma in young people, particularly young women,” Dr. Lichtenfeld explains. “Part of that is due to tanning beds and exposing themselves to the sun on purpose.”
“Tan skin is not the sign of healthy skin,” he continues. “Tan skin is actually the body’s way of saying that your skin is being harmed.”
That’s not to say you can’t enjoy the sun and being outdoors. An active lifestyle is a healthy one and during the summer, being active usually involves being in contact with some rays. Remember the steps to protect yourself against skin cancer and pay attention to what your own body is telling you. Those are the best ways to reduce your risk for the disease, and to have a happier and safer summer.